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Monday, October 20, 2008

Patron Rant

I recently finished reading Steve Dublanica's Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter. It's an entertaining read, even for someone like me -- the type of restaurant patron who thinks a tip is something to be earned, not to be expected. The writing is at times a little self-indulgent, the dialog reads in a very scripted manner, and I counted some 20 grammatical and spelling errors in the book (many of which could have been caught by spellcheck [seriously, what is up with editors who don't spellcheck a manuscript at least once?]), but if you overlook all that, you'll find a nice voyeuristic glimpse into the life of a server, and you'll probably learn a thing or two about what you can do to be a good patron.

It was interesting to see things from the server's perspective for a change. I myself have never been a server (I'm not much of a people person), but I have many friends who are or have at one time been a server, and there's one thing all servers have in common: whatever they make in tips is never good enough. I've often heard from server friends the phrase: "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out!" This phrase also makes an appearance in Waiter Rant, and I agree with the sentiment. But I'd like to add a little phrase of my own: "If you can't provide the minimum level of acceptable service in a restaurant, you shouldn't expect a 15% tip, and should probably get out of the restaurant business." That includes being friendly, taking orders accurately, making amends when mistakes happen, and finding the right balance between checking on us too often and checking on us too infrequently. The door swings both ways.

I understand that restaurant work is very physically demanding (I was a dishwasher for 2 months at a cafe, so I know a little bit about this), and servers are essentially independent contractors whose wages are paid by their patrons. They do not get benefits like health care, sick leave, or paid vacation, and they work long hours on their feet. But most servers do actually make a very decent wage. They just aren't generally very good at managing their money. Hey, I know that if I were paid daily in cash I might have difficulty controlling my spending too, because it's so much easier to spend money when it's burning a hole in your pocket. But that's no excuse for blaming your money troubles on your customers. Unless your customer is a total prick, you're going to get your 15% if you do the minimum level of acceptable service, and for every bad-tipping prick, you're bound to get a great-tipping former server to balance out your income.

Anyway, there's always going to be a divide between those who serve and those who are served. We are warring factions. But it is fun to rant about the other side, isn't it? So let's share. I'm going to share some bad experiences I've had as a patron, and then invite you to share your bad experiences as either a patron or a server.

Patron Rant #1:
Ian and I went for Sunday brunch at the Avenues Bakery in Salt Lake (now out of business, I believe). Our server took our order and brought us our beverages, and then we proceeded to wait an abnormally long amount of time for our food. We watched as tables that were seated after us received their meals while our server didn't so much as offer a refill on our coffee or tea. In fact he didn't even stop to say thank you when he dropped the bill off on our table in passing. We flagged him down and informed him that we hadn't received our food yet. He was very embarrassed, and went off to rectify the situation. Our meals came within minutes after that, but we were both pretty pissed off while we ate. We fully intended to stiff the guy on the tip, but when we were presented with the bill again, he had comped almost the entire tab, and we felt bad stiffing a tip on a $3.00 bill, so we ended up tipping the guy, but felt a little manipulated in doing so.

Patron Rant #2:
Once again Sunday brunch, but this time at the very popular Ruth's Diner up Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake. I've had some delightful dining experiences at Ruth's in the past, and Ian had never been to the place before, so I took him there. We were seated inside in the section that looks like an old streetcar. Our server took our orders and then we waited. Our drinks never arrived, and our server never noticed. We watched her race back and forth up the aisle bringing drinks and refills to neighboring tables, but she never stopped at ours. After a half hour or so, she dropped our entrees off without stopping to see if we needed anything else. After a few passes, we were able to flag her down and let her know that we still needed our drinks. She copped an annoyed attitude and we had to remind her what we ordered. She brought us our drinks but never offered to refill my coffee before bringing us the tab. She did nothing to make amends for her blunder, and so we stiffed her on the tip. (We are not habitual stiffers -- this is one of maybe two times that we have completely stiffed a tip, but she earned it.)

Patron Rant #3
Market Street Grill near the University of Utah. It's not a high scale restaurant by any means, but it is a little bit swanky. Servers dress semi-formally, and prices are semi-expensive. Ian and I walked up from our apartment one evening wearing casual attire and were seated on the patio. Not long after we were seated and gave our orders, a well-dressed man and his date pulled up in a Porsche and were seated at the table next to us. We had the same server. Our service was not particularly bad, but was quite lacking in comparison to the very attentive and friendly service given to our neighbors. Ian and I felt like we had been judged as poor tippers based on our casual appearance as opposed to the clean cut appearance of our neighbors. In actuality, we were probably in a much better position to tip generously, since we both made decent wages and didn't have a Porsche payment or a fancy date to impress. But our server fulfilled her own prophecy, as we gave her a pittance of a tip. I know that servers size-up their tables, but they should never make us feel as if we've been sized-up.


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16 comments:

natabird said...

I can totally relate with #3. Michael and I usually order one meal to share because neither of us can ever finish a whole restautant-sized portion. As soon as we place the order, the service usually changes from very friendly to a little less friendly. We plan to tip as if we had ordered two meals, and often times we do, but it frequently feels as if we are being judged as bad tippers because we are sharing.

B.R. said...

When I was living in SLC, I ate at all of the places you list and only one of them was a place I ended up frequenting repeatedly. Friends of mine have different stories to share about each place, I, however, don't. I know that most Europeans have a bad rep when it comes to tipping.... Per me, however, I think when in Rome.... So, I do tend to tip in the 20-25% range. Why? Well, eating out is not just about the food. It's mostly about the culture of being out, connecting more intimately with your personal life, et al. And all of that deserves my financial attention. Might sound a tad decadent to some, but it's what it is. When the service is sub par, I under-tip but not by much. When living in SLC, we tended to go to Sage's and Eggs in the City partly b/c of the service....
And I did blog about this book, too. Petty, petty premise! It felt like an attempt to bully customers into tipping. You'll pay or else.... It obliterates the joy of dining out. Someone I know, incidentally, used to work for a certain mega coffee company. If customers were rude to her she'd make their coffee decaf. Ouch! I don't know about you, but decaf AM coffee is pretty harsh punishment in my book, esp. if you're paying 5 bucks for it.

amyeliz said...

I love visiting Salt Lake because I always feel like I get amazing service when dining out. In South Beach, the tip is automatically added into the bill, because of the huge amount of foreign tourists that we get. This sucks, because Miami is not know for its good service, and the added in tip is definitely not an incentive for a surly waitperson to behave in a pleasant fashion. Luckily, the tip can be removed.

When still living in SLC, we had dinner at a now closed Italian restaurant. We had waited a long time for our food, and couldn't find our waitress. When we asked, we were told she had gone home. She actually took our order, and left.

Trovan said...

Our rule for restaurants is: 1 chance on food, 2 chances on service.

But we do too based on the service we receive. And, once or twice, have stiffed on the tip completely due to horrible service.

I think that restaurants rely on tips too much to pay their waiter's wages. And waiter feel too entitled.

Sra said...

Nat: I know what you mean; I feel like I can't order one meal for both Ian and I unless we are getting it to go. Otherwise we are just asking for poor service.

B.R.: I believe it was from your blog that I learned of this book and ended up putting in on my read list. I too felt a little bit affronted while reading the book. I want to say, Yes, I understand that your job is hard, and that some patrons feel entitled which can make serving unpleasant, but you did CHOOSE to be a server, didn't you? The book reads as if it's unreasonable for patrons to expect a certain level of good service for the good money we are paying. I totally agree with you that dining out is more for the cultural/social experience than the food. Hell, a lot of the time I can make better tasting food for much cheaper at home, but I like to go out and let someone else do the work sometimes. I expect at least to have a good time, which is why I am actually more forgiving of bad food than bad service. You are a very generous tipper. I know many servers these days are beginning to expect no less than 20%, but I still feel like 15% is more than adequate for the minimum level of acceptable service. Still, it's fine tippers like you who balance out the stiffers (and less when-in-Rome-type Europeans ;).

Amy: That's interesting about Florida. Remind me never to eat out if I ever visit there. Although, on the one hand, I'm of the mind that the restaurant ought to be paying the entirety of the server's wage anyway, so adding in the tip would be a way of doing that. Then if you have complaints, it would be on the management to fix it. Some people think that you're bound to get shitty service if you do away with tipping, but if servers have to answer to their managers more when complaints come in, I still think the impetus to do your job well would survive.

Trovan: As I mentioned above, I'm more forgiving of bad food than bad service, but I like your little formula. I agree that restaurants ought to step up to the plate on paying their employees, and that waiters totally do feel too entitled.

sovknight said...

I tip solely on service. If the server does a good job, they get a tip. I don't do any math either. I just give them whatever seems to be a proper amount based on the level of service I received.

I think they should do away with tipping. In Japan, it's considered rude if you tip a server, because it says to them that they didn't do their job correctly. I don't like being expected to tip people. They should simply pay people a fair wage, and if some would like to tip beyond that, then fine.

I'm not a short tipper though. If I feel the service was good, I tip quite well. I've been known to tip 50% in the past. I don't ask for much either. Just bring me my food and my drink in a friendly manner. Check up once or twice, and deal with any issues. I'm a picky eater, but I'm not picky about service.

I also have no qualms whatsoever about stiffing someone who didn't provide good service. Doesn't bother me in the slightest. I know people who tip something no matter what. I don't like that. They are being paid to do a job, and anything they make above that pay depends on how well they do that job. They should never "expect" a tip.

feed the world with PEZ said...

I have a problem with paying percentages. This I think skews the tip amount simply based on how much the food costs. Why should a server at a higher end restaurant get paid more for doing the same amount of work as a server at an average restaurant? While dining at Bambara this past weekend I paid $30 for my tip. Yet I get just as good of service at Shogun and end up tipping $5. Where is the fairness in that? I think that a $5 tip is actually a pretty good wage for doing 5 minutes worth of work. At that rate they would be making $60 an hour. Of course they are not serving 12 tables an hour. My point is that tips are by definition:
"Tip, Noun
1. an amount of money given to someone, such as a waiter, in return for service"
So if you want a tip you need to provide a "service". "Service" does not mean taking an order and bringing food. If that was all that was expected then I would be tipping the cashier at Burger King. As a server you need to provide a dining experience. Customer service should be your forte. You are an ambassador of your employer and providing bad service can tarnish the reputation of even the fanciest of restaurants. And if you don't like your job (just like millions of other people in this country) go do something else..

tauns said...

Once my husband and I were eating a little bistro like restraunt in downtown SLC (The Paris). The food was good, the service was AMAZING! We left a cash tip of about $10 plus an additional 30% on our debit card. The service was that good! I highly recommend trying The Paris if you like amazing service and great food.

Likewise, we have had our fair share of "preconceived tipping" and horrible service due to it. This last weekend we ate out at Red Robin. We had alway good service from this restraunt. This night however, when we walked in no one was in the lobby yet the hostesses were too busy talking to each other to even bother trying to talk to us. We finally just walked into the restraunt to find the people we were meeting. Once we found the party we were with we seated ourselve. We sat there for 15 minutes (20 for the rest of the party) with not one person coming by to see how we were doing, try to take an order or even get us drinks.

I finally flagged down a waitress. She was completely flabbergasted. She told us she wasn't the waitress for our area (I fully expected her to say she would try to find ours) but then proceeded to say that she would take our table anyway. She didn't try to pass us off. She was an AMAZING waitress. We had some other bad stuff (like what should have been completely clean plates...only top plate was clean all the others were covered in garlic butter...accident?!?) but those incidents were always associated with another server bringing the food or what not. Our server when she found out about the plates compted part of the meal and an appetizer and let the manager know (who came and apologized also).

If we hadn't had that girl as our server, we would have walked out but we knew she was trying and doing an amazing job (not one drink ever went empty at the table once she started serving us). We tipped her good because not only was she a great server, she was making up for a bad experience and succeeding at it.

Claire said...

I come from a mixed-tipping family. My father, "Diamond Dave" will go 30% if things are good and his coffee cup (which, even if the coffee is on the threshold of sublimating from liquid to plasma, is consumed in two gulps per cup) remains full. However, if the service is inadequate and the help remains unapologetic about said crap-tastic service, Dad will literally leave $0.02 as a tip. This is because my father has never had a problem saying "Fuck you!" in word or deed.

Ma, on the other hand, requires proof that the server has been blessed by the Pope, saved the life of a small child, AND shares her obsessive love of Neil Diamond before she'll go above 10%. In a family of spendthrifts, Ma's parsimonious approach to all things financial is what's kept the wolf from the door...but she's not very popular with the waitstaff.

As for me, well, my baseline is 20%. My friend Janae accuses me of being in the Waitress Protection Program, as if I am somehow swayed into overtipping by a hot waitress who just happens to keep my iced tea filled and lemoned. I MAY have, on occasion, given slightly bloated tips to a server or two, but it's not like people "can eat dinner on my tips" as some have implied.

Like you, Sra, I am more inclined to forgive crappy food than poor service. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's someone taking the high hat with me - particularly if it's that individual's JOB to make sure I have a pleasant dining experience.

I've only stiffed once on the tip, and that's because there was some sort of hideous, pulsating MOLD on our bread - a fact that, when pointed out to the waitress, resulted in a shrug and the offending roll being whisked away (presumably for study by scientists), but neither an apology nor any sort of bill adjustment. Even then, though, I didn't completely stiff her.

She got $0.02.

Sra said...

Sov and PEZ, I agree that percentage-based tipping is stupid. It doesn't make sense that one server should get more money from me just because my food was more expensive in one restaurant and because I ordered a $40 bottle of wine. Personally, I'd rather tip some flat fee based on the level of service, and not the price of my dinner. The problem is that servers don't see things that way. They expect to make at least 15%, and if you expect to keep returning to a restaurant, you'd damn well better pay it unless you want to end up with spit in your food.

Tauns: I've never heard of The Paris, but will try it sometime. As for the Red Robin experience, I'm always astounded when service is that bad. How can servers expect to make tips if they just don't care? And how can restaurants expect to stay in business if they don't manage their wait staff adequately? I'm glad at least one server pulled through for you.

Claire: Waitress Protection Program -- I love it! I also love the $0.02 idea. I shall employ it next time I get untippable service.

tennessee mike said...

20% is a nice number, even though it makes for a horrible integer. What I like to do...say a bill comes to me

$13.61 subtotal
$ .95 tax
-------------
$14.56 total

20% on the subtotal is $2.72. However, $2.44 will bring the bill to a nice round $17. I love using plastic specifically for this reason. The waiter ends up getting 17.9% tip, and I get the satifaction of writing those two teeny-tiny zeroes next to the dollar amount.

Also, I know you don't read Slate as much nowadays, but they had a funny article on this and other out-to-eat societal topics:

http://www.slate.com/id/2202646/pagenum/all

Sra said...

You bring up a good point, Mike: that it's not customary to tip on the tax, just the subtotal. This is something that I learned by reading Waiter Rant. I still haven't remembered to tip from the subtotal yet, though. Maybe this discussion will help me remember.

It is nice to write round numbers, but requires more arithmetic than my post-collegiate brain can handle, so I tend to just go with the round numbered tip.

Claire said...

I come from a mixed-tipping family. My father, "Diamond Dave" will go 30% if things are good and his coffee cup (which, even if the coffee is on the threshold of sublimating from liquid to plasma, is consumed in two gulps per cup) remains full. However, if the service is inadequate and the help remains unapologetic about said crap-tastic service, Dad will literally leave $0.02 as a tip. This is because my father has never had a problem saying "Fuck you!" in word or deed.

Ma, on the other hand, requires proof that the server has been blessed by the Pope, saved the life of a small child, AND shares her obsessive love of Neil Diamond before she'll go above 10%. In a family of spendthrifts, Ma's parsimonious approach to all things financial is what's kept the wolf from the door...but she's not very popular with the waitstaff.

As for me, well, my baseline is 20%. My friend Janae accuses me of being in the Waitress Protection Program, as if I am somehow swayed into overtipping by a hot waitress who just happens to keep my iced tea filled and lemoned. I MAY have, on occasion, given slightly bloated tips to a server or two, but it's not like people "can eat dinner on my tips" as some have implied.

Like you, Sra, I am more inclined to forgive crappy food than poor service. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's someone taking the high hat with me - particularly if it's that individual's JOB to make sure I have a pleasant dining experience.

I've only stiffed once on the tip, and that's because there was some sort of hideous, pulsating MOLD on our bread - a fact that, when pointed out to the waitress, resulted in a shrug and the offending roll being whisked away (presumably for study by scientists), but neither an apology nor any sort of bill adjustment. Even then, though, I didn't completely stiff her.

She got $0.02.

tauns said...

Once my husband and I were eating a little bistro like restraunt in downtown SLC (The Paris). The food was good, the service was AMAZING! We left a cash tip of about $10 plus an additional 30% on our debit card. The service was that good! I highly recommend trying The Paris if you like amazing service and great food.

Likewise, we have had our fair share of "preconceived tipping" and horrible service due to it. This last weekend we ate out at Red Robin. We had alway good service from this restraunt. This night however, when we walked in no one was in the lobby yet the hostesses were too busy talking to each other to even bother trying to talk to us. We finally just walked into the restraunt to find the people we were meeting. Once we found the party we were with we seated ourselve. We sat there for 15 minutes (20 for the rest of the party) with not one person coming by to see how we were doing, try to take an order or even get us drinks.

I finally flagged down a waitress. She was completely flabbergasted. She told us she wasn't the waitress for our area (I fully expected her to say she would try to find ours) but then proceeded to say that she would take our table anyway. She didn't try to pass us off. She was an AMAZING waitress. We had some other bad stuff (like what should have been completely clean plates...only top plate was clean all the others were covered in garlic butter...accident?!?) but those incidents were always associated with another server bringing the food or what not. Our server when she found out about the plates compted part of the meal and an appetizer and let the manager know (who came and apologized also).

If we hadn't had that girl as our server, we would have walked out but we knew she was trying and doing an amazing job (not one drink ever went empty at the table once she started serving us). We tipped her good because not only was she a great server, she was making up for a bad experience and succeeding at it.

Sra said...

Nat: I know what you mean; I feel like I can't order one meal for both Ian and I unless we are getting it to go. Otherwise we are just asking for poor service.

B.R.: I believe it was from your blog that I learned of this book and ended up putting in on my read list. I too felt a little bit affronted while reading the book. I want to say, Yes, I understand that your job is hard, and that some patrons feel entitled which can make serving unpleasant, but you did CHOOSE to be a server, didn't you? The book reads as if it's unreasonable for patrons to expect a certain level of good service for the good money we are paying. I totally agree with you that dining out is more for the cultural/social experience than the food. Hell, a lot of the time I can make better tasting food for much cheaper at home, but I like to go out and let someone else do the work sometimes. I expect at least to have a good time, which is why I am actually more forgiving of bad food than bad service. You are a very generous tipper. I know many servers these days are beginning to expect no less than 20%, but I still feel like 15% is more than adequate for the minimum level of acceptable service. Still, it's fine tippers like you who balance out the stiffers (and less when-in-Rome-type Europeans ;).

Amy: That's interesting about Florida. Remind me never to eat out if I ever visit there. Although, on the one hand, I'm of the mind that the restaurant ought to be paying the entirety of the server's wage anyway, so adding in the tip would be a way of doing that. Then if you have complaints, it would be on the management to fix it. Some people think that you're bound to get shitty service if you do away with tipping, but if servers have to answer to their managers more when complaints come in, I still think the impetus to do your job well would survive.

Trovan: As I mentioned above, I'm more forgiving of bad food than bad service, but I like your little formula. I agree that restaurants ought to step up to the plate on paying their employees, and that waiters totally do feel too entitled.

natabird said...

I can totally relate with #3. Michael and I usually order one meal to share because neither of us can ever finish a whole restautant-sized portion. As soon as we place the order, the service usually changes from very friendly to a little less friendly. We plan to tip as if we had ordered two meals, and often times we do, but it frequently feels as if we are being judged as bad tippers because we are sharing.

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